Aphids are in demand for a pest research project

Aphids are a wanted species as researchers call out to growers and agronomists to help locate clusters for use in a pest management project

green peach aphid
Researchers are interested in receiving green peach aphid specimens. Photo credit: cesar

If you have greenfly, blackfly or other soft-bodied insects around 2 to 4mm long clinging to your young shoots and flower buds and always wondered what they are, you need to make a call.

Growers and agronomists are currently being asked to help in the collection of aphids as part of a research project aimed at improving pest management in the grains industry.

The research is being undertaken as part of the Australian Grains Pest Innovation Program (AGPIP) – a Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and University of Melbourne co-investment.

It will examine options for manipulating tiny micro-organisms (called endosymbionts), that live inside pest insects, to reduce the risk of crop damage and plant virus transmission.

Endosymbionts are bacteria that live within the cells of other organisms – such as insects – in a symbiotic relationship. Co-evolving over thousands or millions of years, endosymbionts can become crucial to certain survival processes in the insect host.

These processes may include nutrition, reproduction and resistance to external pressures, such as insecticides or climatic variations, as well as impact upon the ability to transmit viruses and an insect’s susceptibility to predators.

“By manipulating endosymbionts within the insect, it is possible to disrupt these processes and reduce pest impacts,” says Professor Ary Hoffmann, whose Pest and Environmental Adaptation Research Group (PEARG) is leading AGPIP’s endosymbiont research at the University of Melbourne.

“We are looking to use this method in pest aphids to reduce the impacts of direct feeding damage and aphid-to-plant virus transmission,” Professor Hoffman said.

The research involves endosymbionts being transferred from one aphid species into another, as well as the suppression of endosymbionts in pest species through the application of heat and chemical treatments.

The success of this work is dependent on culturing live pest populations collected from paddocks.

“Currently, due to COVID-19-related restrictions, we are hampered in our ability to undertake paddock collections of pest species,” says AGPIP co-lead Associate Professor Paul Umina, of the University of Melbourne.

“Therefore, we are asking for help from the grains community in collecting aphids.”

The research team is seeking live aphids collected from locations around Australia, with a particular emphasis on collections from non-crop habitats such as roadsides and pastures.

The researchers are specifically interested in receiving specimens of: Russian wheat aphids (Diuraphis noxia), Oat aphids (Rhopalosiphum padi), Green peach aphids (Myzus persicae) and Pea aphids (Acyrthosiphon pisum).

Oat aphids
Researchers are also seeking live specimens of oat aphids commonly found in cereals and grasses. Photo credit: cesar

Russian wheat aphids and oat aphids are commonly found in cereals and grasses. Green peach aphids inhabit a variety of plants such as canola, vegetables, pulse crops and brassica weeds. Pea aphids are often found in lucerne, pulses and pasture legumes.

For more information and advice on submitting collected specimens, contact Associate Professor Umina on 0405 464 259 or via email at pumina@unimelb.edu.au

AGPIP is a collaboration between the PEARG at the University of Melbourne and cesar. The program is a co-investment by the GRDC and the University of Melbourne, together with in-kind contributions from all program partners.